Tuesday, April 15, 2014

basketball season in review, 2

Continuing the series begun last week.

#12 - Joe Harris - Sr. SF

This season: As predicted, Harris's raw numbers went down this year.  He scored less and rebounded less, and played fewer minutes too.  And as predicted, this was a good sign; it meant more reliance on a larger number of teammates.  Spread things out and it can only be a good thing.

Harris's shooting percentages were down across the board, too, though in the case of his three-point percentage, nobody would ever complain about a 40% success rate there.  People did wonder what happened to his free-throw shooting, as a normally extremely reliable shooter from the stripe suddenly seemed to brick way more than his share.  Despite that, his KenPom O-rating actually went up - most likely the result of reaching a career high for assist rate and a career low for turnover rate.  (Besides, if he'd shot .740 instead of .640 from the line, it would've meant less than one more make every three games.)

Even though Harris passed the end-of-game heroics torch, I think it's clear whose team this was.  Every year a basketball team finds a new identity; this year, it was easy to see Harris's fingerprints.  His ability to do just about anything well, nothing notably spectacular, and score in whatever way was necessary and expedient, that was essentially the whole offense in a nutshell, and the versatility Tony wants out of his guards.  He was just as likely to be setting a screen as running off of one, and you get the impression it never occurred to him to think it wasn't his job to screen for someone else.

We would also be remiss if we failed to remember that it was Harris's visit to Tony Bennett that instigated the famous turnaround.  Would Tony have made the changes on offense that he did, if Harris hadn't done that?  Who knows.  It's not worth the speculation.  Tony got the leadership he wanted out of his senior class, responded positively, and the rest is banners.

For his career, Harris finished with 1,698 points, good for 11th on UVA's all-time list, below Curtis Staples and above J.R. Reynolds.  Tremendous company.  No doubt exists in anyone's mind that between that and the trophies he brought home, the pantheon of UVA all-time greats added a new name this year, and his name is Joey Hoops.

Next season: Obviously, we will follow his professional career with great interest, though the NBA is a fringe possibility at best.  Chad Ford has him 99th out of 100 on that board of his.  UVA will definitely miss his scoring and leadership, but if the culture that we think exists, actually exists, someone will fill the void.  As long as we can find someone to shoot threes as good as he does.

#13 - Anthony Gill - So. PF

This season: We were promised that Tony had really dug up a gem in the South Carolina transfer, and I for one am not disappointed.  Gill brought a powerful scoring punch to the frontcourt, and coming off the bench, often found himself guarded by someone who was totally incapable of the task.

His favorite weapon was the face-up drive from the elbow; probably three-quarters of the guys guarding him couldn't stop that move.  Gill drew a ton of fouls this way; despite playing fewer than half the available minutes, he led the team in free-throw attempts, and with a .627 percentage from the line, wasn't stellar in converting them but was good enough to make it work.  (And he hit two of the year's absolutely hugest free throws, calmly knocking down both ends of a 1-and-1 against Pitt to turn a 1-point lead into a 3-point lead.  Justin Anderson's block finished off the win, but Gill's shooting set the scene.)

Gill was also a feisty offensive rebounder, and got more comfortable (and aggressive) on defense as the season went on.  He was credited with 20 blocks this season, 16 of which came after the Tennessee game and fully half of which came in ACC and NCAA tournament play plus the season-ending Maryland game.

Next season: Chances are very good that Gill makes the move to the starting lineup next year, and how he handles that transition is one of the biggest questions to be answered.  That's a twofold issue; the first part is, how will his offensive game evolve and will it continue to be as effective when always going against the other team's best?  The second is on defense, and how well he continues to absorb Tony's system.  That's still a work in progress, as there were occasions this year where you could catch him out of place.  In only his second year learning the ropes, that's not exactly a strike against him, but there'll be an expectation that he continues to eliminate those mistakes.  As already pointed out, that progress was on display even as the season continued, so there's no reason at all for pessimism.

And by the way, as Gill shot 39% on the occasional three-pointer while at South Carolina, it just might be that we should be on the lookout for Tony to let him incorporate that into his game too.  We'll see.

#15 - Malcolm Brogdon - So. SG

This season: Coming off a redshirt year induced by a stubborn foot injury, I fretted that that kind of injury could turn into a chronic thing, and I don't think anyone really knew for sure if his foot would hold up to a full season of 30-minute-a-game pounding.  At least, anyone outside the team.  Brogdon didn't play like he was exactly worried and Tony didn't play him like he was, either.

Obviously, it held up and nobody even thought about it after December.  After a freshman year as a complementary scorer, taking a backseat role to Jontel Evans and Sammy Zeglinski - one in which he frankly turned the ball over too much - Brogdon burst back onto the scene as a new man and the Hoos' leading scorer.

Thanks to London Perrantes, Brogdon wasn't asked to be the primary ballhandler (though he did still continue to act as point guard at times), and could focus his efforts on the basket.  In ACC play and beyond he averaged 14.5 points a game, drilled any number of huge shots, and even occasionally put in an appearance on KenPom's top ten players in the country, showing up as high as #8.  He was an indispensable end-game player, as a near-automatic free-throw shooter, and his size and UVA's penchant for forcing outside shots allowed him to become a prolific rebounder for a guard.  Combine that with a flip-flopping of his assists and turnovers, and you have the profile of a new Top Dog for this team going forward.

Next season: There'll be only one senior, and he's almost certain to come off the bench, which means this is Brogdon's team now, and all that entails.  Doesn't get any simpler, or more complex, than that.

#23 - London Perrantes - Fr. PG

This season: On one of the message boards early this year, I don't even remember which one, someone posted that they loved that Perrantes had #23 because it meant he had guts and swag, picking Michael Jordan's number and all.  I wasn't particularly big on that idea, and still am not.  It's his play that earned the Cali Swag label.

Actually, "swag" is not how I'd describe it; Perrantes was simply cool and unflappable and brought a surprising innate basketball sense to the court.  So often with point guards, what they're doing right isn't really quantifiable, but you know it when you see it.  With Perrantes, it didn't take long to become clear that he was doing things right.

Perrantes started most games in the non-conference, but not the Tennessee game; he was put back in the starting lineup for the ACC slate, and a couple weeks later when he delivered a season-high 9 assists against UNC (and only one turnover) we were all wondering why he'd ever been out of the starting five.  But the real turning point of his season might've been the Virginia Tech game in Cassell Coliseum.  There, with UVA in real danger of being upset, Perrantes hit more three pointers (three) than he'd hit in the past seven games combined, and all at crucial junctures.  The rest of the season, that game inclusive, he was an incredible 24-for-39 from beyond the arc.  That's 61.5%.

With actual scoring - 8.7 ppg during that stretch - coming from the point guard position, UVA's offense was suddenly extremely hard to stop, and the O-rating started taking leaps and bounds every time out.  The offense was KenPom's 50th in the country going into that VT game, and 20th going into the final game of the year.  By that time, people were having second thoughts about whether Tyler Ennis really was the conference's best freshman point guard.

Next season: Perrantes has grabbed the starting PG job with a vengeance and probably won't let go til those pesky NCAA eligibility rules make him.  Expect him to be more assertive for his own shot next year, and expect that not to hurt his distributive skills one bit.

#25 - Akil Mitchell - Sr. PF

This season: Mitchell did a lot of things for the team.  He rebounded at a near-elite level, midseason he rediscovered his baby hook that worked so well for him last year, and he brought a fiery attitude to the court that was second only to Justin Anderson's.  (We won't mention the sometimes facepalm-inducing free-throws.)

Mitchell's real value, though: his picture-perfect understanding of Tony Bennett's defense.  It's so damn hard sometimes to find someone with such a combination of athleticism and court sense.  Mitchell was never, and I mean never, out of position.  He hedged on ball screens higher and harder than anyone and never fouled in the process.  He could take a ballhander practically over and back doing that and still recover to the paint in time.  He could double-team and recover in a flash, because while some guys have their shooting stroke committed to muscle memory, Mitchell had his defensive positioning there instead.

Not bad for a guy who was considered the biggest project of the whole six-man class.  Arguably, the defensive contributions Mitchell brought will be much harder to replace than Joe Harris.  Scoring is something a lot of people can do; exquisite defense is rarer.  It's also less memorable in the mind of the public at large, but if you named an all-defensive team from the annals of all UVA history, it's not complete without Mitchell.

Next season: Same as Harris, we wish only the very best in a possible (and almost certainly overseas) pro career.

#30 - Thomas Rogers - Sr. SG

This season: So I don't usually include the walk-ons in the picture, but Thomas Rogers provided the single best moment of the season by nailing a three to put the perfect cap on the Syracuse game.  This team won two different ACC titles and earned a #1 seed and was on the winning end of more than one big nailbiter and they were never so excited as when that three found the bottom without even stopping for the rim.  It proved that when they talked in interviews about winning for each other, there wasn't a fiber of canned cliche to it.

Next season: Has a UVA degree, and therefore is set for life.

#32 - Darion Atkins - Jr. PF

This season: Coming off of severe shin splints which derailed his sophomore year, Atkins unfortunately found himself in a no-man's land.  Not as good a defender as Mitchell nor as good a scorer as Gill, nor as big as Mike Tobey, Atkins appeared in every game but got pushed to the back of the rotation.  When in the game, at times there were flashes of the Atkins that started last season and was a terrifying force when paired with Mitchell.  But only flashes.

Next season: Mitchell leaves behind 26 minutes a game that need to be filled, and I don't picture Tobey and Gill picking up more than six each.  Even with two frontcourt freshmen coming into the picture, it'd be awfully surprising to see Atkins not add to the 10 minutes a game he got this year.  Some consider him a ripe candidate to transfer and play one season elsewhere, but he hasn't graduated (to my knowledge) and it would be somewhat surprising to see him sit for a year to play for a year.  (Part of the reason people think "transfer" is because Atkins never looks all that into the game, but his bored facial expression is just... that's just how he looks all the time.  When he goes flying to block a shot, which he does often enough, questioning his into-it-ness is a lot harder.)  Besides, the fact that Teven Jones announced his transfer means Tony has already had the "honest talk" with his team over their seasons and their anticipated roles.

So Atkins probably boosts his minutes to the 13-16 range.  Substantially more scoring out of him is not likely, but he'll be asked to haul in more rebounds, maybe even double his per-game total there.  He may have to fight off the newcomers Wilkins and Salt to be the first big off the bench, but he's got an obvious head start in the defensive system, which makes a big difference.

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This concludes our look at the team itself.  Once the early entries to the NBA draft are all sorted out, then I can write something semi-coherent about an early look at next year's ACC.

Monday, April 14, 2014

weekend review

Woo-hoo, I partook in the annual ritual of watching the no-defense festival that is the annual loss to Duke on the lacrosse field.  Well, I take it back somewhat: not every game against them is completely without defense.  We never play it, but sometimes Duke does.  Sometimes we lose by a lot and sometimes by a little, but one thing is usually a given: Duke will wear out the netting, usually around 15 times.  The last time there was a low-scoring affair against those guys: 2007, a 7-6 loss for us.

This happened to be one of those days where UVA could keep pace somewhat.  UVA has been in the game in every one of its losses but the Notre Dame one; even more interesting, we've been able to play any kind of game the opponent wants.  Defensive slugfest?  Sure.  Shootout?  Sure.  And therein, I think, lies part of the problem.  When have we seen UVA impose its will on the other team?  Only in games against much lesser opposition, and even then you saw problems against Rutgers and Richmond, to name a few.

Goalie play took a dump, of course, which didn't help.  I was surprised to see that Duke's Luke Aaron failed to reach a .500 save percentage, because it seemed like he was saving basically everything, which may have been only in comparison to our own goalies, who saved nothing.  That's "goalies" because Matt Barrett got yanked for Dan Marino, who was just as bad.

I'm not prepared to guarantee UVA will make the NCAA tournament because I'm not prepared to guarantee this team can beat Bellarmine; they absolutely should and I think they will, but the flaws are such that you just never know.  How often do they look like they know what they're doing?  I'd say, not much.  The offense doesn't know whether to be patient or to run'n'shoot; the defense doesn't know whether to sit back or be aggressive, and they try all of them at various times and don't get consistent results.  The coaches have tried all they can think of to win faceoffs and have resorted to an apparently random pattern of choosing the ineffective short stick or the ineffective long stick.  Likewise they can't decide who should run the offense from the X; they don't seem to have confidence in either Owen van Arsdale or Ryan Lukacovic, and have equally inconsistent substitution patterns there as well, to say nothing of the midfield.  The whole operation stinks of throwing crap against the wall just to see what sticks.

I don't think this season is a total loss.  Any time you beat Hopkins and Syracuse you've succeeded at a portion of the goals that UVA lacrosse sets out to accomplish.  Then again, any time you lose to Maryland, UNC, and Duke, and get to mid-April not 100% sure about making the NCAA tournament, not to mention not even playing in the ACC one, you've fallen short of quite a few others.  The atmosphere around the program is starting to look like the one around Debbie Ryan's hoops program a couple years before her resignation.  When a respected Sabre poster lets loose on the coaching staff and program with cannons blazing like this and this, and is not told out of hand to stuff it, you can tell the cracks are appearing.

I link those epistles for you, and even find them well-reasoned, but I don't (yet) fully endorse them.  I'm painfully aware this is the worst two-year stretch for UVA lacrosse in quite some time, but I'm also painfully aware of what happens when fans let expectations run too wild, revolt, and accelerate the downward spiral.  Tennessee boosters pitched Phil Fulmer overboard because they were tired of Outback Bowl seasons and he had the audacity to go 5-7 that one time, and in the five years since they've won 7, 6, 5, 5, and 5 games.  People around here got tired of Debbie Ryan because we didn't win enough in the ACC and didn't go far enough in the NCAAs, and Joanne Boyle has only managed to spin her wheels at best.  Is Dom Starsia getting lazy at recruiting and allowing the program to get bogged down in the mud?  Maybe.  Are we capable of screwing this up by running him off and spending six winless years in the ACC?  More than.

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-- It's amazing how a shutout can feel like anything but a dominant pitching performance.  Brandon Waddell combined with Whit Mayberry and Nick Howard to hold Clemson entirely scoreless on Sunday and take the series, and yet it sure had none of the feeling of the same result a week prior.  Waddell was dominant against Pitt, and forever walking the edge against Clemson.  Much better team this week, yes.  And honestly, a pitching coach will be at least as happy, if not happier, to see his charges battle back against multiple basepath incursions, than to see them breeze through with little trouble.  The Pitt shutout showed a lot of ability; the Clemson shutout showed ability and character.

Miami managed to sweep the same Pitt team that we took only two of three from, however, and thus UVA finds itself tied atop the division.  This means less than it did last year, though, now that the ACC tournament has moved away from pool play and to a basic double-elimination format.  The 1 and 2 seeds used to get their choice of game times, and that mattered much more then.

-- If this doesn't impress you or do anything for you at all, you're in the wrong place.  How about the ACC all-sport record for most consecutive conference wins?  Men's tennis brought that distinction to UVA by winning its 117th straight conference match - counting both regular season and tournament play, meaning, NCAA tournament as well.  117 straight wins against ACC foes, no matter when or where the competition.  That's a mark that, if it's ever topped by anyone, will take a good ten years to achieve, minimum.  (Though I haven't checked to see if anyone anywhere is working on a streak of like 70 or so right now, which is possible but not real likely.)

-- I wouldn't have bothered watching the spring football game even if it had been on, honestly.  It just doesn't excite me; for one, because the affair is never a real game; two, because you can never really tell whether one side's dominance is a good thing or a bad thing and therefore the thing is not all that instructive; three, because 2-10.  (#1 is that way because coaches are always concerned about injuries and depth - there's no way we could've put together two full teams' worth of O-linemen - but it's also easily fixed such that my attention could be restored.  Play a full speed 7-on-7 game.  Problem solved.  Injury risk is minimized and fans get something to watch.)

However, Jeff White's article answered the one question we all want to know, even if Mike London is still playing coy.  Greyson Lambert, besides being voted a team captain, threw 31 passes while Matt Johns threw 19 and David Watford just 14.  I leave you to draw your own conclusion, with every confidence you'll decide the same as I did.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

lacrosse bracketology

Presented.


Getting right down to brass tacks, I think it's very unlikely UVA misses the tournament.  We aren't in great shape, but wins over Loyola, Hopkins, and fast-rising Syracuse make for a fairly secure bid - even though my system has us sitting precariously close to the bubble.

I'm also thinking that it's unlikely we host a first-round game.  Denver and Cornell, the last hosts in this week's edition, are pretty far up there.  Cornell is kind of in free-fall at the moment, working on a three-game losing streak, but Loyola would be first in line to host, I'm thinking, if one of the top eight falls.

Here's where we round it back to good news: So many ACC teams are in line for hosting duties that the options for our destination are fairly limited.  The committee will create rematches if they have to, so they're not averse to making us play Cornell or Hopkins, but the ACC is a real conference now in their eyes and therefore immune to playing each other in the first round.  Right now two of the six seeds 3-8 are ACC teams, so there's only four places we can go, and it'll likely stay that way - unless it becomes three of six.

The last spot is interesting right now.  The math gives Princeton a slight edge over Yale, and in looking at common opponents both are 3-1 (both beat Lehigh and Dartmouth; Yale beat Brown and lost to Penn while Princeton did the opposite.)  Princeton has the SOS while Yale has the RPI, and Princeton has a slightly stronger full slate of wins.  Hofstra is turning into a big win for them, while Yale lacks a strong OOC win (the Flying Dutchmen are in on autobid this week but also reasonably comfortable in at-large consideration.)  So I'm not strongly attached to Yale over the Tigers right now; that said, Yale did actually beat Princeton, which is a healthy tiebreaker.

The gap between them and Fairfield, though, is wide; this is partly why I say UVA is in good shape for a bid.  There aren't many threats to pull the rug out from underneath.

Last week's games to watch:

Syracuse 14, Cornell 9: The Cuse had just a monster week.  Cornell had a rotten one.

Duke 17, Virginia 15: It's interesting - except for Notre Dame, which was just inexplicable, the Hoos haven't been out of any of their games this year.

Yale 7, Brown 6: The second tier of the Ivy League came really close to turning the whole league upside down.

Air Force 16, Fairfield 8: The thin air must've gotten to them.  Whatever the reason, Fairfield really hosed themselves good.  Not only did they essentially guarantee that they need the autobid now, the ECAC tournament is going to have three basically even teams and one bad one - and Fairfield blew their chance to play the bad one.

Hofstra 10, Cornell 9: This is what I mean about a bad week.  Also, this game made it close to impossible to avoid rematches in this week's edition, and as you can tell, I didn't much try.  Hofstra is now in remarkably good shape.

Penn 8, Harvard 7: See Yale-Brown.  Both games went to OT.

Johns Hopkins 11, Maryland 6: Quite a surprise, I thought, but hey: Cuse and Hopkins scoring upsets is nothing but good for UVA.

Syracuse 11, North Carolina 10: Big week for the Orange continues.  They now have the top RPI in the country and are closing to shooting distance of the #1 seed.  Duke still has a nice tight grip, but it's not unassailable.  There is one big problem for the Orange, though...

This week's games that matter:

Brown at Cornell: What can Brown do to you?  The Bears are no more a threat to win an at-large bit than VMI is, but they're why Princeton isn't in the field right now and they've come close to torpedoing a few other teams too.  With Cornell on a big losing streak, it could be interesting.

Maryland at Notre Dame: The ACC field is set and Notre Dame is in.  (That big problem for Syracuse?  They're 0-2 against UNC and ND, which means they lose any tiebreaker that this game creates, and out of the ACC tournament.  Edit: As pointed out in the comments, I'm dumb; somehow I thought Cuse when I was looking at UNC's page, and vice versa.  UNC is the one that's 0-2 against the others.)  And if they win, their reward is Maryland one more time.  (If the Domers win, they'll play Duke and Maryland will play UNC Cuse.)

Princeton at Harvard: Probably a must-win for Princeton in order to stay in contention; they can't afford to miss the Ivy tournament and they probably will if they lose this one.

Air Force at Ohio State: The ECAC is setting up to be a fun ride.  If Air Force wins here they'll have a very, very inside track to the championship, because they'll get Michigan in the first round of the conference tournament, while Fairfield and OSU battle it out.  If Air Force loses, it opens the door to a potential triangle of doom, which would require goal differential to untangle.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

series preview: Clemson


Date/Time: Fri.-Sun., April 11-13; 6:00, 2:30, 1:00

TV: Cavaliers Live on Saturday and Sunday

Record against the Tigers: 51-102

Last meeting: UVA 2-1 over Clemson (6-5, 6-7, 8-5); 3/15-3/17/13, Clemson

Last game: UVA 9, JMU 3 (4/8); UGA 6, CU 2 (4/8)

Last weekend:
UVA 2-1 over Pitt (4-0, 1-2, 3-0)
NCSt. 2-1 over CU (6-1, 4-9, 1-7)

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA #2; CU #14
Collegiate Baseball: UVA #3; CU #22
NCBWA: UVA #1; CU #13
Perfect Game: UVA #2; CU #15
Coaches: UVA #2; CU #14

Pitching probables:

Friday:
LHP Nathan Kirby (6-1, 1.03) vs. LHP Matthew Crownover (6-2, 2.23)

Saturday:
RHP Josh Sborz (3-1, 2.63) vs. RHP Daniel Gossett** (3-0, 2.25)

Sunday:
LHP Brandon Waddell (4-1, 3.14) vs. RHP Jake Long** (2-0, 4.06)

**NOTE: Clemson hasn't announced their starters for Saturday and Sunday.  While their coach Jack Leggett can be prickly this way sometimes, Gossett and Long have been injured, shoulder and back respectively, and there's legitimate uncertainty as to whether they'll be available.

The second, and much tougher, half of the ACC slate begins this weekend.  Rarely does Clemson not pose a challenge, and they've played in every ACC tournament since its inception.  Brian O'Connor, however, has only ever lost one series to them while at UVA - that in his first season - and only 5 of 25 games since then.

The pressure remains on from below, however; Miami gained a game on UVA last week, no thanks to the Hokies, who successfully blew a 7-2 lead on the Canes on Friday and rolled over the next two days for the Miami sweep.  UVA has work to do to hold off Miami, if the Hoos want a top-two seed in the ACC tourney, and can't let up even with a tougher schedule than that of the Canes.

Scouting report:

-- First base: Shane Kennedy (.222-1-7). Tore his ACL five months ago and raced through rehab to return a few weeks ago against Florida State.  Had a very good season last year (his first with Clemson after transferring from the juco ranks) with an excellent combination of speed, power, and average, resulting in a selection to the ACC second team.  Off to a slow start this year, however.  Right handed hitter usually batting seventh.  Jon McGibbon had been playing the position in Kennedy's absence, but is hitting only .140 on the year.

-- Second base: Steve Wilkerson (.347-4-18).  Switch-hitter who is Clemson's top hitter for both power and average this year.  Team leader in BA, OBP, SLG, HR, and 2B.  Bats sixth for whatever reason, even after the lineup shakeup that Jack Leggett installed against Georgia this week, which was the first change of any kind in the order in 11 games.  Superstition maybe, I dunno.  Wilkerson is a senior and a two-time second-team ACC selection and a tough out, but not a great fielder.

-- Third base: Weston Wilson (.321-2-19). Righty freshman who has forced his way into the lineup and been hard to keep out of it, impressing with both bat and glove.  Leggett has used junior Jay Baum here at times (Baum is never out of the lineup) but not since March 19.  Wilson generally bats ninth.

-- Shortstop: Tyler Krieger (.309-1-19).  Has started every game here, and been slotted second in the lineup in all but one, moving to third this week against Georgia.  Had a .958 fielding percentage last year as a freshman but is tremendously error-prone this year, dropping his FP to .876.

-- Left field: Jay Baum (.313-0-16).  Baum has started every game, nine at third base and the rest in LF.  When Baum plays third, Andrew Cox (.167-0-1) or Mike Triller (.318-0-1) takes over in left.  Both are left-handed batters while Baum is a righty.  Given latest results, Triller would seem the likely choice if Baum moves to the infield at any point.  Baum was a career .224 hitter entering the year but has improved mightily this year, although his power is strictly in gap shots - he's never hit a home run.  He hit at the bottom of the lineup most of the year, 7th or 8th, but moved to 2nd against UGA.

-- Center field: Tyler Slaton (.328-2-19).  The only Clemson player who has played the same position and batted in the same spot for all 32 games: leadoff.  Diminutive lefty with impeccable fielding record.

-- Right field: Steven Duggar (.320-0-23).  Also has started every game here, due to his arm.  Major base-stealing threat with approximately one every other game, but also somewhat strikeout-prone.  Cleanup hitter despite not hitting a home run all year.

-- Catcher: Chris Okey (.270-3-30).  Actually the catching duties are split almost exactly down the middle between Okey and Garrett Boulware (.298-2-22).  Whichever doesn't catch, DHes.  Freshman Okey has committed fewer errors but Boulware has a slightly better record at catching base-stealers.  Okey, the freshman, bats fifth, while Boulware has batted third all year except for the UGA game, where he was bumped to seventh.

-- Pitching staff:

Friday: LHP Matthew Crownover (6-2, 2.23).  Sophomore who was Clemson's weekday starter last year, so UVA hasn't seen him.  Middling velocity that wasn't there at all last year as he pitched his way back from Tommy John surgery, but excellent command; has walked only 9 batters.  Usual Saturday pitcher this year whose move to Friday is due to Daniel Gossett's shoulder injury.

Saturday: RHP Daniel Gossett (3-0, 2.25).  Lanky veteran right-hander with similar velocity to Crownover; sinking action on a lot of his pitches.  Allowing a .193 batting average.  16th-round draft pick out of high school.  UVA has seen him twice and struggled each time; first in the 2012 ACC tourney where he allowed one run in 6 2/3, and again last year in the regular season where UVA scratched out two runs in 7 innings.  If Gossett can't go, the likely next option is RHP Clate Schmidt (4-5, 3.92), probably the hardest thrower on the team but a guy who was a weekend starter last year and found himself in the bullpen to start this season.  Schmidt has three starts this year in 13 appearances, with only one start against ACC competition (his first was against Georgia, however, three weeks ago.)

Sunday: RHP Jake Long (2-0, 4.06).  Long is a transfer from East Tennessee State, so, another pitcher UVA hasn't seen.  Does not sport a good K/BB ratio at 23/17.  Back trouble kept him out of the NC State series.  The next likely option as a replacement is lefty Zack Erwin (2-2, 4.58).  Either way, Clemson's Sunday pitching has a very tough time matching up with Friday and Saturday.

Bullpen: Will be thinned out considerably if the injuries keep Gossett and Long out again, and Schmidt and Erwin are forced to start.  Matt Campbell (2-0, 0.45) is an outstanding senior closer who's allowed only one earned run in 20 innings.  Righty Drew Moyer (1-0, 3.26), a 6'4" freshman, is the only other reasonably dependable option, but opposing hitters are batting .303 against him.  Clay Bates (0-1, 5.71) has been rather hittable, though he was better last year.  That's about the extent of useful pitchers.  There are no left-handed options out of the pen unless Erwin doesn't start, or unless Clemson decides to give the extremely hittable Alex Bostic a spin.  (Unlikely, as he was given one start this season and promptly blown off the hill - by Western Carolina.  That was an interesting game.  Bostic got a 1-2-3 first and then walked three and allowed two hits in the second, and all five of his runners scored.  Clemson lost, 18-10.)

Bottom line: This weekend matches up the league's top ERA (that'd be us) against the league's top batting average (that'd be them.)  Clemson has a good solid lineup from top to bottom, particularly now that they've excised the guys who can't see the Mendoza Line with binoculars.  This'll be one of, if not the, stiffest tests yet for our pitchers.

However, the Tigers have been inconsistent as well, and fielding - especially up the middle at second and short - has failed them miserably at times.  The pitching depth is suspect.  Crownover should give Nate Kirby a tough battle, and Gossett has handcuffed the Hoos twice, but we don't know if he'll pitch.  Clemson's more than talented enough to take two of three from UVA, but are at risk of being swept if they can't win with Crownover on Friday and if Gossett can't go.  The bullpen desperately needs the presence of Schmidt and Erwin; otherwise, should UVA knock a starting pitcher out of the box early, that game could turn into a Cavalanche in short order.

Prediction: 50% chance of a 2-1 UVA series win, with 25% each of Clemson taking two or UVA getting the sweep.  Let's cut it right down the middle and say we get the win but no sweep; I have a hunch Leggett is using injuries as half an excuse not to just come out and tell us Gossett will pitch, so Clemson should be able to force Sunday to be a rubber match.  By then, though, they'll have used up their useful pitching depth; Clemson's only won one Sunday game all year against teams you'd consider any good.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

basketball season in review, 1

I hope you liked this season.  You won't see another one like it in a very, very long time, maybe not in your lifetime.  Oh, not to say the team won't be good again, or even win ACC championships again, or that it won't be a lot of fun watching them do it.  But the feeling of discovery will be gone.  Not really knowing how good the team is, but finding out a little more every night, one blowout at a time, how good they can be - it's a special thing, and not replicable.

Sorry.  Don't mean to depress you.  Winning is fun and it always will be, just, a different kind from here on out.  And Tony Bennett still has some uncharted waters left.  But let's talk this season.  We'll wrap it up the same way, more or less, that we opened it: a player-by-player review that'll take two posts to finish, and then, once the draft deadline has passed, an early look at the state of the ACC in 2014-2015.

#0 - Devon Hall - Fr. PG

This season: Redshirted.

Next season: Part of the reason Teven Jones is transferring is because of the numbers game created by Devon Hall coming off his redshirt.  Occasionally it's hinted that Hall is a guy we should have high expectations for, but we simply won't know the extent of it til we see it in person.

We can get a fair idea of his likely role, though.  Joe Harris averaged 28.8 minutes, and if you take out blowouts it was more like about 32.  Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes are close to maxed out; they got 31.4 and 29.9, respectively, and you can't tack on much more - about 4 each, let's say, which would get them to about what they averaged down the stretch.  That leaves 20 backcourt minutes to be doled out, of which Justin Anderson probably gets 5 to 8.

Toss in the minutes opened up by Teven Jones - not many, but they're there - and that leaves, oh, maybe 12-18 minutes a game to be split between Hall and B.J. Stith.  More early on, when there's no point in running the starters ragged and when it's therefore unlikely that Brogdon gets any 35-minute games.

Hall will definitely be asked to run the offense at times; sharp-eyed viewers will note that everyone in the backcourt (except Evan Nolte), not just Perrantes and Brogdon, took a spin initiating the offense.  Harris and Anderson as well.  Probably 75% of the time, things were operated by the point guard, but there were times it wasn't always the case.  So we shouldn't expect that just because we have Perrantes and Brogdon, Hall will play exclusively off the ball - and vice versa.

Obviously, expectations should be tempered, because we're Virginia fans and we always overshoot.  Really, all Hall needs to do is chip in four or five points a game and we'll have what we need out of him.

#1 - Justin Anderson - So. SF

This season: Anderson is such a fun player to watch that what I'm about to say will sound heretical, but: on the stat sheet, he didn't really progress this year.  Even fell back slightly in a few areas.  He shot more this year, but didn't improve his shooting; he actually blocked fewer shots than last year, got fewer steals, fouled more, turned the ball over more, and all in fewer minutes.  His mid-range game didn't improve like I hoped it might in the preseason.  And early in the year his three-point game was up over last year, to the point where I thought to myself "he doesn't hit a ton, but he hits just enough."  In ACC and tournament play, though, that disappeared, and he was just 27% from deep.

Here's the thing about basketball teams, though: they're almost never exactly the sum of their parts.  Bill Simmons writes like half his columns on that premise (and mainly when the whole falls short of the sum.)  College teams in particular, every year they have to find a new mix.  Coaching is part mad science and chemistry instructor.  Part of the reason this UVA team was so incredibly much more than the sum of its parts is because Anderson has a knack for extremely well-timed big plays, and does a lot of non-scoresheet stuff by harnessing his apparently superhuman body control.

Some scoresheet stuff, too, come to think of it; his momentum-changing swat against Maryland that turned into a Joe Harris three was a thing of beauty.  A Justin Anderson Superman block comes out of nowhere until you've seen enough of them; then you can spot 'em coming a mile off because you can see him lay the trap.  Anderson has a rare and deadly combination of instinct, timing, and body control that makes him a marvel to watch.

That, and his infectious energy, earned him the inaugural ACC 6th Man award from the media.  He might not start, but he finishes, and in no game was his end-of-game presence more important than the ACC semifinal against Pitt when his incredible leaping talents got his fingers in the way of James Robinson's potential game-tying shot.  His least spectacular block of the year, but his most important.

Next season: Anderson would be considered a frustrating player if he weren't so damn fun to watch and full of spit and hustle.  He could stand to improve his efficiency, and can do so by improving either his handle or his shot.  All he'd need to do, really, is hit like five more threes over the course of the season and he'd be up near 34, 35%, good enough to be considered, if not quite a true threat, at least reasonable. 

I don't think it's a given that he starts.  His energy is awfully useful off the bench; it's like hitting the opponent with a whole second wave of reinforcements.  If Stith or Hall are impressive enough in the preseason, they could take the starting spot vacated by Harris.  I at least envision some more tinkering in the early part of the season, and Tony will eventually make a decision one way or the other, but Anderson seems likely to once again split his time between the first and second unit til then.  Since we already know he can defend, it'll probably (in a very un-Tony-like decision) depend on his scoring.  He'll start if he proves irreplaceable on offense; in which case the ACC would be hard on notice because Anderson with a handle would be an absolute terror.

#5 - Teven Jones - So. PG

This season: Odd man out, unfortunately.  It had to be someone, which was a good position for the team but not for Jones and his minutes.  Early on, he was a back-end rotation player, even in close games.  He got nine minutes in the VCU loss and eleven in the Norfolk State game, which was a closer game than it should've been.

By the time the ACC season was a third over, though, he was coming in just ahead of the walk-ons.  He managed an incredibly rare five-trillion against Florida State (in Tallahassee, playing in large part because of the need to fill Joe Harris's minutes) and if he hadn't been the middleman between Anderson's mega-swat and Harris's transition three, against Maryland, he'd've earned another one.  Come March, his pregame dances were the distinguishing feature of his game.

It should be mentioned, though, that not everyone would've taken such a demotion as well as Jones did.  For which UVA fans are duly appreciative and well-wishing on his transfer.

Next season: Since the point of his transfer is to play, it wouldn't surprise to see Jones drop to a Division II school; since he burned his redshirt by joining the team midyear in 2011-2012, he'd have to waste a year of eligibility transferring within D-I.

#10 - Mike Tobey - So. C

This season: Tobey came in almost 30 pounds heavier than he was last season, which made him a lot harder to deal with down in the paint.  The downside: he had to spend the year learning how to use that newfound size.  Big men develop more slowly because their growth spurts force them to almost literally relearn the whole game every time they have one.

So it's not too surprising that Tobey would have a growth spurt - on the scale instead of the tape measure - and not know what to do with all that extra power.  It led to a great deal of inconsistency, and announcers saying they wanted to see more fire and motor out of him.  I don't think it's that Tobey lacks the energy (although he was sometimes being juxtaposed with Justin Anderson, which was not fair), it's that he simply was not always sure what he could get away with.

And while his offense came and went, his defense and rebounding took the upward path you'd expect from his added bulk.  He became a top-100 shot blocker in the country (according to KenPom's block-percentage state) and a top-50 offensive rebounder.  He was more aggressive on both offense and defense, even if at times it didn't seem like it and he disappeared for entire games.  Part of the reason we say he disappeared is because of the much larger role he was being asked to play in the first place.

If you needed proof that Tobey successfully made the leap into the Circle of Trust, it came at the end of the Memphis game when he decided, for reasons known only to himself, to hork up a three with over 20 seconds left on the shot clock.  This was not just running a red light, it was running the red light outside the Annual Law Enforcement Convention with "Fuck Tha Police" blasting from the speakers and throwing donuts out the window.  The fact that Tony did not industrial-epoxy his ass to the bench was proof of Tobey's accession.  It helped that he made the shot, too.

Next season: It's fair to expect a lot more consistency on offense.  Tobey played less than half the available minutes, and with Akil Mitchell vacating more than 25 a game, Tobey should be up well over 20 next year.  Mitchell was about a 7 ppg scorer, and the frontcourt newcomers - Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt - will likely pick up almost none of that.  It's up to Tobey and Anthony Gill to pick up that slack.  Like Anderson, Tobey has the potential to be a terror if his offense follows the glide path that it should.  You notice that halfway through the year we stopped talking about his propensity to have his shot blocked, so there are legitimate reasons to expect great things after another offseason in the weight room and of learning to throw his weight around.

#11 - Evan Nolte - So. SF

This season: Pretty much all the predictions came true, about Nolte being the one to see his minutes get squeezed.  He lost more than 10 minutes a game from his average and sat out five games entirely.  The 9th player in a 9-man rotation.  For most of the season, he looked like a player carrying out his assignment and, for fear of making the mistake that would cost him the rest of his minutes, never freelancing.  He shot the ball much less than half as often as last year, and really wasn't hitting them as efficiently, either.

There's hope, though, and it comes in the form of his NCAA tourney minutes - and not just because he nailed some very timely threes against Coastal Carolina.  Nor was it just because he exploded for a throwdown against Memphis - but we're getting warmer.  Take a look at the minutes he played against Michigan State - 15, more than twice as many as Tobey.  This against a team with some very dangerous frontcourt athletes.

This was because against Memphis and MSU, he actually looked like a power forward.  It wasn't the shots he hit that impressed me, it was that somehow he flipped a switch and a new, much more aggressive Evan Nolte showed up on the court.  Against MSU he pulled down five boards, by far his season high, and these were not because the ball bounced toward where he was standing.  He went out and fought for them, he bodied up on defense, and I think he surprised MSU in doing so because there's no way that was part of their scouting report.

Next season: Last offseason I was fairly confident in saying Nolte's minutes would decline, and lo and behold, they did.  Now, though.... if he shows the coaches more of that tournament fire, he'll make things very interesting, and as a result I think Nolte has the most unpredictable future of anyone on the team.  Do the coaches continue to have him play mainly a perimeter role?  Or do they give him a look as a true power forward at times?

There are two things I think Nolte can do to maximize his potential.  One is to work on his stepback and/or pullup midrange shot.  He hit one like that against Notre Dame and I thought, you know, with a little practice he could make that part of his arsenal.  The other is to hit the weight room so hard the coaches have to change the locks.  Now we know that when he's good and motivated, he can defend opposing fours.  I don't think he'll ever have the quicks to guard scoring wings like, say, a T.J. Warren or Lamar Patterson, but with added strength he could guard the four for stretches and then step out and pop a three on the other end; that's a terribly frustrating type of player to have to scout and plan for.

It won't all come next season, I don't think.  Nolte isn't quite the athlete Tobey and Anderson are, and so his pace of improvement is naturally going to have to be slower.  But anyone ready to write him off based on the decreased minutes should remember he was still just a sophomore and has two more offseasons to work on things.  I think in Nolte's case, if it all comes together it'll be as a senior - but there's good reason to believe in his progression next year.  I don't know if I'd have said that before the NCAA tournament.

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Part 2 flies next week, with six more scholarship players and one bonus.

Monday, April 7, 2014

weekend review

I still hate faceoffs, but it'd be utterly inappropriate to start off with anything but Nathan Kirby here.  There was plenty of legitimate concern about Kirby last year; he came in with such hype and fell flatter than his very hittable fastball.  I'm not the sharpest bulb in the shed, but I think it's safe to say that Kirby, already having put those doubts in the past for the most part, blew away their final shreds with a vengeance.

On Friday night I was debating with myself: should I write a lacrosse game preview or take the path of least resistance and watch the baseball game?  As you might've guessed, there was no Friday post, and I'm not even a little bit sorry.  Kirby's 18-K no-hitter makes a strong case for the single most dominant pitching performance in UVA history; he was an error and a walk away from a perfect game, and eight strikeouts ahead of Will Roberts's performance in his perfecto from 2011. 

(The case for Roberts states that exactly one ball left the infield, which is two fewer flyballs than Kirby allowed, and furthermore the left side of the infield was almost totally unemployed.  Second baseman Keith Werman had seven assists, but Chris Taylor and Steven Proscia on the other side only combined for one - Proscia's.)

In fact, the closest thing to a hit all day was probably the very last batter.  #9 hitter Manny Pazos, leading off the ninth, hit a fly ball that looked like trouble live, but on replay from a different angle it was clear that Joe McCarthy had a bead on it all the way and didn't need to expend much effort to snag it.  Really, it was Dylan Wolsonovich's grounder to short that looked like the toughest play of the evening, and Daniel Pinero made easy work of it.  Good thing, because if I'd had to pick the kind of batter I'd least want at the plate with one out to go in a no-hitter, it'd be the scrappy, speedy little bugger of the kind that populates so many middle infields on ball teams everywhere.  You know he's not gonna strike out, he's gonna make you work for it, and he's gonna chug as fast as he can down the basepath.  Kirby struck out everyone at least once - but Wolsonovich only once.

Kirby was quoted afterwards as saying, "I wanted to let the hitters hit it and let our defense play," which is funny because 18 strikeouts.  Nice plan, looks like you really stuck to that one.  Better theory: he watched his infield make a rare error in the first inning and decided, fine, I'll do this myself; he stepped out for the second inning and didn't stop striking people out til the fifth.  The end of the 10-man strikeout streak (a Jordan Frabasilio groundout) was the first time the idea of a potential no-hitter popped into my head; prior, I was too busy laughing in disbelief as the path from home plate back to the Pitt dugout turned into a five-lane superhighway.

Kirby's performance drew comparisons - from me, basically - to a left-handed Max Scherzer.  When Scherzer's mowing people down, his pitches don't look, at first glance, like anything special.  He has a slight tail to his fastball, which isn't otherwise overpowering like a Randy Johnson bullet train, but it lands heavy on the bat thanks to that little sinking action, if hitters hit it at all.  His breaking ball isn't brilliant-looking either, but he has two of them and changes speeds with them at will.  And his changeup is devastating.  But none of them look like the kind of filthy stuff that wins you a Cy Young.  He just misses all the bats.  That was Kirby - no second breaking ball, but he still changed speeds beautifully, hit his spots, and put just a hint of a tailing motion on his fastball, and threw pitches that looked so tantalizingly hittable.  Only four or five of his strikeouts were K's looking.

The rest of the weekend was little better for Pitt batters; UVA's pitchers recorded a 0.66 ERA for the three-game series.  Sadly, they got no support on Saturday and Pitt lived up perfectly to the prediction that said they could steal one if our bats were cold, so Brandon Waddell decided to hell with run support and shut them out for eight innings on Sunday, polished off by a no-sweat inning from Nick Howard.

The real work starts this coming weekend.  The combined ACC records of the remaining teams on the schedule: 47-26.  This is where that super-regional hosting duty will be won or lost.

*********************************************************

More bullet-point news.

-- Lacrosse lost.  Did I mention argh faceoffs?  I actually thought the crucial one was the one after we scored to go up 10-9, rather than the one on which UVA rolled over and graciously allowed R.G. Keenan a leisurely stroll to the net.  That was a true team non-effort, that was, right from the utterly rotten effort at the X to the not-my-job approach to defending the ballcarrier.  But it was really the previous faceoff where the game could've been won, and wasn't.

UVA is now eliminated from the ACC tournament, a major black mark on the season's record, and though I expect they'll find themselves back in the NCAAs, I also expect they'll find themselves back out of them sharpish.

-- Plenty of Tweetery news today and this week; the most obviously relevant is Teven Jones's decision to transfer out.  The hardest part of any roster to fill is the very fringe of the rotation - in an ideal world you could have a veteran to lean back on in the event of injuries like UVA suffered in 2011-2012, but that never happens anymore.  It's hard to ask a guy to do that, though, when he knows he could be playing somewhere else instead of being best known for his dancing. 

Ross Metheny left with a ton of love and gratitude for UVA, but he wasn't oblivious to the signs that pointed to a career as a backup.  Jones is plainly the same.  UVA loses one backcourt player to graduation (Joe Harris) and brings in two (B.J. Stith as a freshman and Devon Hall off his redshirt.)  Jones was already in no-man's land between the rotation and the walk-ons, and his minutes situation wasn't going to be improved by that numbers game.

Jones's decision means two instead of three scholarships are open for the recruiting class of 2015, and I would expect Tony Bennett to move quickly to fill them all.  Jones was part of that enormous sophomore class that was going to leave a huge crater in the roster when they graduated in 2016; if Tony nabs a combination of transfers and 2015 recruits to fill every last slot for 2015, it reduces the need to bring in a monster-sized class in 2016 to fill the holes, and spreads things out a little better for the long term.

-- Other ACC transfers include Tyler Lewis (from NC State to Butler) and BC's Ryan Anderson, easily their top offensive player after Olivier Hanlan.  That, plus BC's decision to aim nice and low in their coaching search (Jim Christian took John Groce's Ohio Bobcats and finished second in the MAC his first year and fifth in his second) should ensure the Eagles will fill out the bottom of the ACC standings for years to come.

-- Derek Fisher's return to the baseball lineup appears semi-imminent; he'll miss Clemson this weekend but may return the week after, and the FSU series that Brian O'Connor all but guaranteed Fisher would play is the one right after that.  This is great news but also not very surprising: the bone that Fisher broke is utterly pointless and the surgeons don't fix it, they just yank it like a bothersome appendix.  So his recovery is less about bone healing, because he doesn't have any broken ones left, and more about getting his hand strengthened again after being sliced open.

-- Finally, I have sad, sad news: the empty trophy case is no more.  VT's famous WE DON'T HAVE ANY NATIONAL TITLES neon sign is replaced by a big, life-sized Hurkey Turkey or whateva.  Most likely it was moved to the bass fishing locker room where it can finally serve its intended purpose, but that doesn't mean it has to stop being a metaphor when we need a handy one for the natty goose egg.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

lacrosse bracketology

Argh faceoffs.  Here is this week's bracketology.  Argh faceoffs argh faceoffs argh faceoffs.


Argggghhhhh faceoffs.  We have a new #1 this week, and it's extremely decisive; Duke is it by a landslide.  Cornell's loss to Harvard opens up brand-new horizons, drops the Big Red into a five-way mess for seeds 2 through 6, and combined with Duke's win over Notre Dame means the one team that's really passed the eye test the most this season now owns the top spot.

The world of autobids got turned a little upside down, too.  Fairfield claims the ECAC spot and makes that league the one-bid league it's supposed to be, but Harvard is now the only undefeated team in Ivy League play and thus claims that league's bid, for now.  And, in what should be considered a big upset, Bryant failed to steal the NEC autobid from St. Joe's, and the Hawks remain in the tournament and even in position to host a play-in game. 

Can we stop right here and call St. Joseph's the best story of the season?  St. Joe's wouldn't be here without the combination of moving to a much easier conference and tournament expansion, but still - a few years ago they were a totally lifeless program.  This is my fifth year writing up this bracketology; after the first two, if you'd asked me which three teams I would guess would've been least likely to ever appear on this page (and not counting Presbyterian, in their last season) my choice would've been easy: Wagner, VMI, and St. Joe's.  I'm absolutely going to be pulling for the Hawks in their conference tournament.  Bryant won it last year and the Hawks have bloody well paid their dues.

Moving on.  There's one team that is breaking my system right now: Penn.  Only 5-3, the Quakers still managed to actually come out as the 2nd seed in the math.  They've beaten Yale, Denver, St. Joe's, and Ivy pest Brown, and really the worst team they've played is 4-6 Villanova, so they're exceedingly RPI-friendly.  I slammed them down to sixth seed anyway.  The margins between 2 and 6 are so incredibly slim, I can get away with it.  We're not quite close enough to make a common-opponents look really worth it yet, but we'll get some head-to-head answers this week.

As for UVA, I'm not really ready to call our resume bulletproof just yet.  We're already #1 in the country in strength of schedule, so playing Duke next week won't help much if we lose.  However, Hopkins is ever so slightly ahead of us, and if that gap gets any larger I can't justify making UVA a seed anymore - yet we also don't want them to lose because we're sort of hanging our hat on having beaten them and Loyola.  (And Syracuse, too, yes, but still.)  Those three wins probably get us into the tournament, but we'd all rest easier if UVA can just pull off the absurdly impossible next week.

(We're still, as far as I can tell, totally eliminated from the ACC tournament.  Argh faceoffs.)

Last week's games that mattered:

Johns Hopkins 13, Albany 8: Partly thanks to Fairfield, Albany is now facing down a play-in game, albeit almost certainly as a host.

Duke 15, Notre Dame 7: The Domers still can't quite eke their way into the field, thanks to this loss and Harvard.  I mean, they're in pretty damn good shape for a 4-4 team, though.  Very close to Yale as the last team in and well ahead of the teams behind them (Princeton and Towson.)  Plus, if they haven't clinched an ACC tourney spot, they're at least close, and the extra game or two should pump up the RPI.

Towson 6, UMass 5: UMass has dropped well out of consideration, and now needs the autobid.

St. Joseph's 9, Bryant 7: Pretty well covered above, I'd say.  St. Joe's now has an iron grip on the autobid til the NEC tourney, where they're likely to be the #1 seed.

Penn 10, Brown 8: Close, but the Bears get dealt a big blow in their quest to be an Ivy spoiler.

Drexel 13, Penn State 12: Remember when the preseason polls had a top 7 of the ACC and Penn State?

Harvard 14, Cornell 9: Obviously the game of the week as far as impact on bracketology.  Harvard is a huge nonfactor in the at-large race, slotting in between UMass and Lehigh, but they've just butted into the Ivy race in a big way.

North Carolina 11, Virginia 10: Argh faceoffs.  Also if someone would like to connect on a pass once in a while that'd be cool too.

Hofstra 7, Siena 6: Pretty close there, but it keeps Siena from being a factor in the stay-out-of-the-play-in race.

This week's games to watch:

Syracuse at Cornell: Big one for positioning in that top group.

Duke at Virginia: Actually, maybe just pretend this one doesn't exist.

Yale at Brown: Except for games involving Dartmouth, any Ivy League game is going to matter.

Fairfield at Air Force: For ECAC supremacy.  Fairfield is in a dead heat with Yale for the last at-large spot in the mathematics of the system, but it's still an easy decision to go with Yale.  In other words, Fairfield (and Hofstra, too, come to think of it) is really in a position where they must keep winning in order to get right with the bubble, but if they keep winning they'll probably just be autobids anyway.

Cornell at Hofstra: Then again, a win for the Flying Dutchmen ("Pride" is such a silly name) in this one could be very, very helpful.

Harvard at Penn: See above re: Ivy League.

Maryland at Johns Hopkins: This game gets played as a conference game next year, which is messed up.

North Carolina at Syracuse: More 2-through-6 positioning.

Friday, April 4, 2014

series preview: Pittsburgh


Date/Time: Fri.-Sun., April 4-6; 3:00, 3:00, 1:00

TV: ESPN3 all three days

Record against the Panthers: 5-1

Last meeting: UVA 11, Pitt 4; 3/24/81, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 10, GWU 0 (4/2); YSU 7, Pitt 6 (4/2)

Last weekend:
UVA 3-0 over VT (2-1, 9-2, 7-4)
Pitt 3-0 over GT (4-3, 5-0, 4-2)

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA #3; Pitt UR
Collegiate Baseball: UVA #3; Pitt UR
NCBWA: UVA #1; Pitt ARV
Perfect Game: UVA #2; Pitt UR
Coaches: UVA #1; Pitt UR

Pitching probables:

Friday:
LHP Nathan Kirby (5-1, 1.24) vs. RHP Rhys Aldenhoven (2-1, 3.79)

Saturday:
RHP Josh Sborz (3-1, 2.78) vs. RHP Joseph Harvey (2-1, 2.79)

Sunday:
LHP Brandon Waddell (3-1, 3.76) vs. RHP Matt Wotherspoon (3-3, 6.81)

You read it right - if you paid attention - UVA and Pitt haven't met on the diamond since 1981.  And previous games between these teams were so long ago that the official site's preview says they don't even know where the games were played.

Pitt has been somewhat of a surprise in a somewhat down and very tightly packed Coastal.  They started their ACC season 1-5 and then in the past two weeks, swept Duke (not a terrific feat, though the Blue Devils are 7-5) and Georgia Tech (quite the surprise.)  That puts them third in the division and tied for 6th in the ACC.  On the other hand, they've suffered more than their share of out-of-conference losses, including a four-game losing streak against Fordham, Ohio State, ECU, and WKU.

Trying a slightly new format for baseball previews this year; here's the Pitt lineup:

-- First base: Eric Hess (.289-1-10).  Bats L.  Usually hits in the 5 or 6 slot.  Mainly a singles hitter.  Solid fielder.

-- Second base: Matt Johnson (.265-0-12).  Bats R.  8th hitter.  Juco transfer.  Moved from shortstop early in the year, but has started all but one game.  Decent basepath speed.

-- Third base: Jordan Frabasilio (.280-2-8).  Bats R.  Another juco.  Typically 7th hitter, moved down from 5th.  One of four to play in every game, starting all but two at third.  Lousy fielder (.877 fielding %.)

-- Shortstop: Dylan Wolsonovich (.310-0-19).  Bats R.  #2 hitter.  Started year at second base.  Good contact hitter, mostly singles.

-- Left field: Boo Vazquez (.274-5-30).  Bats L.  #3 hitter.  Big guy, solid power.  Second-team Big East in 2013.  Batted .337 last year.  Vazquez moved to DH earlier this season in favor of A.J. Lardo (.300-0-3) but reclaimed LF a couple weeks later.

-- Center field: Stephen Vranka (.293-2-17).  Bats R.  Leadoff hitter and only Panther to start every game of the season at the same position.  Team leader in walks with 22, and has 4 triples.

-- Right field: Casey Roche (.292-3-23).  Bats R.  Cleanup hitter.  Has started all 28 games; one at DH, one on the mound, the rest in right field.  He and Vranka are seniors.

-- Catcher: Manny Pazos (.183-0-11).  Bats R.  Ninth hitter when in the lineup.  Pazos shares catching duties with fellow freshman Caleb Parry (.105-0-0.)  Neither can hit much.  Tyler Albert has started three games behind the plate and is 1-for-12 on the season.

-- Designated hitter: Steven Shelinsky (.272-2-15.)  Bats R.  5th or 6th hitter.

-- Bench: Lefty OF Nick Yarnall (.286-0-5) and righty OF A.J. Lardo (.300-0-3) see a pretty fair amount of pinch-hitting duties and the occasional start. 

-- Rotation:

Friday: RHP Rhys Aldenhoven (2-1, 3.79): Doesn't throw hard (86-88) but gets strikeouts with a good breaking ball.

Saturday: RHP Joseph Harvey (2-1, 2.79): Spent last year in the bullpen as the Panther closer.  Very good control, only 9 walks this year.

Sunday: RHP Matt Wotherspoon (3-3, 6.81): Led Pitt in both Ks and walks last year.  Walks are down but opponent BA way up; got shelled by UNC and VT.

Bullpen:

RHP Hobie Harris (2-3, 2.10): Lanky, effectively wild with 24 Ks and 19 walks in 30 innings, and opponents' BA of .136.

RHP Jon Danielczyk (3-0, 2.88): Top reliever a year ago with ERA of 1.69.  Has hit more batters than he's walked (6 to 3.)

RHP Luke Curtis (0-1, 2.30): More than a strikeout per inning but opponents' BA is .328.

RHP Adam Dian (1-1, 3.00): Transfer from Temple.

Bottom line: Pitt is a very, very veteran team; the only players mentioned in this whole preview not in their third year (or more) are the freshman catchers Pazos and Parry, as well as Nick Yarnall.  Everyone else is at least a redshirt sophomore, and there are a number of seniors.  The lineup from 1 to 8 is practically indistinguishable from one another; there are no freakishly dangerous hitters and no obvious weak spots until you get to the ninth-hitting catcher, whoever it happens to be.  Leadoff hitter Stephen Vranka is probably the most dangerous, as he owns good speed, a very good eye, and some gap power.  Most of the lineup is right-handers.

Pitt does have some left-handed pitchers stashed away on the bench, but we'll never see 'em.  Might be no surprise, then, if we see a lot of left-handed part-timers John LaPrise and Matt Thaiss, and less of Robbie Coman.  The amount of skew on Pitt's roster toward right-handed players is astounding; only three lefty-hitting position players (one of whom throws righty) and no switch-hitters.

At 10-2, UVA is poised to start running away with the Coastal Division.  Miami is hot behind at 8-4, but UVA has the series win.  The difficulty (but RPI bonus) is that UVA is scheduled to play all the best teams in the Atlantic (FSU, Clemson, Wake(!)) and none of the worst.  So getting a series win on the road here is important, lest Pitt and Miami make the race interesting.

Prediction: 50/50 split in probability between a 2-1 win and a sweep.  Pitt's solid veteran lineup could win a close game if the UVA bats are cold.  They likely don't have the firepower to match up in a shootout, though.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

the recruit: Cory Jones

Name: Cory Jones
Position: DE
Hometown: Washington, DC
School: Archbishop Carroll
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 210

24/7: 87, three stars; #36 WDE, DC #6
ESPN: 71, three stars; #143 DE, DC #12, East #244
Rivals: 5.4, two stars
Scout: two stars

Other offers: Illinois, Wake Forest, Toledo, ODU

It's a familiar story by now: raw athlete hasn't played football since he could walk like the rest of his recruiting class, is therefore underrecruited and Mike London pounces.  Cory Jones is even more extreme than the usual story; Jones grew up working on his hardcourt skills, hoping to get his chance as a basketball player.  By the time his junior season was over, though, he was coming to the realization that the offers weren't coming.

So he finally gave in to his school's football coach's urging to try the gridiron, with a lot more success than he'd ever had in hoops.  It didn't take long - only a few weeks into the season - for some of the more local schools such as Maryland to come sniffing around.  This is still absurdly later than the usual recruiting cycle, and what usually takes at least a year and more often two was compressed into just a couple months.  Somewhat overwhelmed, Jones made a hasty commitment to Toledo, but retracted it on his official visit to UVA and became the penultimate member of the class of 2014.

The most intruguing thing about Jones is the sacks he racked up this past fall.  This number is variously given as 20, 25, or 26, many of them in his first few games.  Whatever the actual total, it's impressive; Archbishop Carroll plays in the highly competitive WCAC against schools like Good Counsel and DeMatha, and there's a ton of I-A talent that comes out of that league.

Depending on who you ask, Jones's athleticism is anywhere from eye-popping to average; ESPN credits him with just "adequate playing strength and average initial quickness for size."  Scout agrees regarding Jones's initial moves, while Rivals and 24/7 have higher opinions.  The guy literally never put on a football helmet til last summer, so I have a tough time believing 20-odd sacks are the result of average athleticism.  Jones is probably closer to the higher end of the scale, but if he really was a Ziggy Ansah physical freak, a few more offers would surely have come his way.

Two comparisons with current UVA players come to mind; the first is, plainly, Max Valles.  Jones has a similar build and projection; because he's still such an unsculpted mound of clay, there's the thought that he could develop into either a true weakside defensive end, or a stand-up pass-rushing linebacker like Valles with potential to learn the nuances of occasionally dropping into coverage and diagnosing run plays and other linebacker things.

Much depends on both how he fills out his frame, and who is coaching him in the future.  Though Jon Tenuta has at least a rough blueprint on how he wants to use Jones, if there's a different coaching staff in a few years they might very well have their own ideas.  This brings us to the other currently-playing comparison: Trent Corney, who has needed quite some time to channel his considerable athleticism into a useful form and should never have been on the field as a true freshman.  There's really no reason for Jones to see the field this year; if he thought the recruiting process was overwhelming, wait'll he gets a load of actual college coaching.  Lots to learn.  I don't expect anything at all out of Jones until his third year in the program at the soonest, and if he's rushed, that won't change things.  By then we should be able to tell if his talents are going to translate into regular contributions, or if he's on his way to being recruited over.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

weekend review

For some reason, I can't quite put my finger on it, I'm not ready to stop talking basketball just yet.  I think it rhymes with "flampionships."  At the very least it's only fair if I do a postmortem kinda deal on the season, and I think I'll take and review every player the same as they were previewed in the beginning.  It should also be interesting to take a look at the ACC once the draft deadline passes later this month.

For now, it's officially the spring season and only the spring season, and spring sports are springing.  Lacrosse is trying to, anyway.  The 9-6 loss this weekend would not be terribly upsetting if you pretend it wasn't Maryland.  Maryland's defense is one of the best in the country, and Niko Amato is a top-flight goalie, so, you'd like to do better when the national title is an every-year goal, but the way things are set up this year it's not a huge surprise what happened.  Actually, it wasn't even Maryland's defense that did UVA in; it was their ability to hold onto possession for really long stretches, and UVA's inability to win a faceoff once Maryland figured out the gimmick.

Some bulletized points in brief(ish):

-- I'd just been thinking we hadn't really seen the full Shocker effect this year when LaPierre absolutely leveled a dude while carrying the ball, which went totally unappreciated by the crowd because they might not have been rooting for us.  They don't call him the Human Clear for nothing.

-- Despite taking the loss, Matt Barrett played another reasonably solid game.  That makes two in a row.  Progress.  He saved 11 of 20, which is a .550 save percentage, and at least once I remember thinking, "he doesn't make that save a month ago."  For the season, he stands at .470.  That's still bad, but remember Adam Ghitelman's freshman year saw him land at .497.  No, that's not good either, but still.

-- I know I wasn't the only one cheesed off by the announcers blatantly shilling for a shot clock, except doing it in the most passive-aggressive manner possible.  What really bugged me was this: UVA spent too long for their tastes passing the ball around, and they practically begged the refs to put the timer on.  The refs didn't, UVA shot, Amato saved, and Maryland cleared - and the first thing Eamon Mc-Inane-y said was, "I didn't like that shot.  It was too rushed."  Now you know why there isn't a shot clock in lacrosse, Eamon.

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-- One thing I promise to start doing this week is giving a damn about baseball.  Not that I haven't before, but for it being one of my favorite UVA sports, I've written damn near nothing about it.  Well, there will be a series preview of Pittsburgh this week.  And this past week, they swept up VT as is only fitting.  I was about to say customary, but that really hasn't been the way things have gone lately.  Despite the huge gap between our two programs, we'd only swept VT twice since 2008.

Joe McCarthy was the ACC player of the week, too; the third such honor for the third different Wahoo this year.  Nick Howard won it the week before and Derek Fisher took one home before breaking his hand.

-- Here is an excellent rundown of the various UVA players populating the minor leagues.  I used to do this myself at times but why duplicate the effort?  And of course, don't forget the five Hoos wearing major league uniforms as of Opening Day: Ryan Zimmerman (Nats), Sean Doolittle (A's), Mark Reynolds (Brewers), Javier Lopez (Giants), and Brandon Guyer (Rays).

-- I was hoping that DeLoss Dodds's retirement at Texas would significantly decrease the douche quotient of the UT administration, but no such luck.  Glad to know shipping the players off to Mexico City or Dubai to "grow the Texas brand" is a priority, more so than playing Texas A&M.  I want to defend the NCAA in certain things they do but it is really friggin' hard to do when you claim that your purpose is educational, not business, but you won't play a hundred-year-old rivalry because it doesn't make "business sense."  And you assholes wonder why the players are trying to unionize.

-- Marquette lost their coach to the ACC, so they went to the ACC for his replacement, luring Steve Wojcie-whatsit away from Duke.  You know, Wojo.  Let me be neither the first nor the last to make the joke about oh no who will do Coach K's sideline interviews for him now.

-- Boston College is not exactly aiming high in their own coaching search.  The two names mentioned in that article coach the Atlantic Sun runner-up (FGCU) and MAC 5th seed (Ohio.)  Yeah, both those schools won conference championships lately - and the coaches who did so are now at USC and Illinois.  Would it be too much to ask of an ACC school to think a little bigger than a guy whose only foray out of MAC coaching peaked in one CBI bid in four years at TCU?  I like Boston College, honestly I do, I've never known anything but good people out of Chestnut Hill, but if the Big Ten cares so much about media markets, maybe we can swap them for Penn State.  Step it up, Eagles.